Oct 20, 2021 Last Updated 1:03 PM, Oct 19, 2021

South Africa: "Hunger and thirst for what is right"

Categoria: I Nostri Dicono
Visite: 1711 volte
Our group GOW (Grain of wheat) named after the challenging teaching of Christ, that a grain of wheat must die before it produces a bountiful harvest, highlights this month of June 2006 and invites all Christians of our country to rediscover the martyrdom dimension of those young people who gave their life in the upheavals on June 16th 1976. That day will never be forgotten. It is commemorated today as a South African national holiday, Youth day, which honours all the young people who lost their lives in the struggle against Apartheid and Bantu Education.

In our first four pamphlets, we introduced some profiles of martyrs of our time. In this present reflection, we would like everybody to research again and discover different motivations that animated our youth to be protagonists of the preparation and birth of the New South Africa.

We invite the people of good will to see these grains who died thirty years ago, in the contest of the Pentecost and Christian unity’s prayer celebration.

For sure, because of them South Africa today enjoys a democratic society which acknowledges the basic human rights of dignity, freedom and justice. In the following lines you find some achievements and also challenges, for South Africa, in the field of education: indeed their martyrdom was determinative for what we experience today.

We are glad of your collaboration in sending us the conclusion of your reflections and research. Also it is appreciated to receive some profiles of those young who died and known only by few of you. Especially those who were genuine in their life to transmit the Gospel and the kingdom of God that is growing in our hearts and society although other kingdoms appear stronger.

With our people we remember also those young people who still give their lives, in different countries, to change the present situation and for the better future of the African Continent.

History highlight:
In 1953 the Apartheid Government enacted the Bantu Education Act, which established a Black Education Department in the Department of Native Affairs. The role of this department was to compile a curriculum that suited the “nature and requirements of the black people.” This Department introduced Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in black schools. Students objected to being taught in the language of the oppressor. Many teachers themselves could not speak Afrikaans, but were now required to teach their subjects in it. They believed that Black youth were going to be deprived the opportunity to further their studies outside the country, because Afrikaans is only used in Namibia and South Africa.

Consequently the Black community organized itself to oppose this move and to prepare alternatives to the Apartheid system as such. The “Freedom Charter” was adopted in Kliptown in 1955 which outlined a future of equality and freedom for all… In one of the paragraphs of the “Freedom Charter” we read:
The doors of learning and of culture shall be opened!
The government shall discover, develop and encourage national talent for the enhancement of our cultural life;
All the cultural treasures of mankind shall be open to all, by free exchange of books, ideas and contact with other lands;
The aim of education shall be to teach the youth to love their people and their culture, to honour human brotherhood, liberty and peace;
Education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children;
Higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit;
Adult illiteracy shall be ended by a mass state education plan;
Teachers shall have all the rights of other citizens;
The colour bar in cultural life, in sport and education shall be abolished.

On Wednesday 16th June1976, thousands of school children of Soweto came out in protest and converged next to Orlando Stadium. Most of them had never been in protest rally before. So far this was essentially a peaceful protest, with students carrying placards and banners saying “Down with Afrikaans”, “Away with Bantu Education”, etc. they also sang “Nkosi Sikeleli Afrika”.

The police fired teargas into the chanting crowds of students, who are no different from other young people. A small schoolboy was one of the first victims. Thirteen years' old Hector Peterson was shot dead. His sister Antoinette was by his side as he died. These young people continued to sing and dance, without any warning the police started firing into the crowds with live ammunition. All hell broke loose, the children retaliated with bricks, stones and bottles against the police. Hundreds of children died and thousand were wounded. The anger of the people was taken out on cars, buildings and everything which represented the Apartheid system. In a matter of weeks of uprisings spread to different parts of the country.

Martyrs for social justice:
{mosimage} They were protesting for a more just educational system, one which would not place them in the position of underdog in the society in which they would emerge. They wanted to make South Africa a more just society. There can be little doubt that the system of ‘Bantu Education’ was devised as a method of controlling the progress of the black population. It was a system of Education for Subservience. The issue of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in the schools was only the spark needed to ignite a powder key of discontent.

Perhaps those who died in the aftermath of June 16th took seriously their prayer of “Thy Kingdom Come”. Not only did they “hunger and thirst for what is right”, in the hope that they would be satisfied (Mt.5:6), but they applied themselves to the achievement of their ideals. They suffered the ultimate “persecution in the cause of right”. We have the assurance of our Lord that “theirs is the Kingdom of heaven” (Mt.5:9).

What has been achieved to date?
In 1994 President Nelson Mandela said: “Today, we mark the 18th anniversary of June 16th as a free people, proud and full of joy for taking the resistance of that generation and others before and after it to its final conclusion. Yet we mark this day also with a feeling of sadness: that the thousands who deserve to be here with us today are no more. We salute them all.” In his address he highlighted all the achievements that had been made: South African had achieved its freedom, the country was being governed by a Government of National Unity; The Reconstruction and Development Programme would be implemented; the culture of learning and teaching would be restored in all schools; legislation would be passed to eradicate discrimination and the first steps would be taken towards ten years of free quality education.

Today we can proudly say that we have one curriculum for all, the learners to teacher ratio has been drastically reduced to 33:1, the amount spent on children has increased to R5,142 per learner with an average increase for African learners of 76%, there are schools were learners are not expected to pay any fees, parents can apply for exemption from paying fees if their annual salary is less than 10 times the annual school fee; there are more children in schools and more schools, learners can learn in their own home language and teachers are more qualified than in the past.

What challenges still remain?
  • Twenty four percent of the 14-18 year olds that should be in school are not.
  • Children with disabilities are still disadvantaged in that there are not enough schools close to their homes that are accessible and can cater for their needs.
  • There is still a low learner achievement in learning areas like mathematics, science, technology and languages.
  • There is a shortage of skilled teachers in the above learning areas.
  • Many poor learners are still excluded from public institutions because of factors like uniform, fees and language.

What can we do?
  • Get involved in your local school.
  • Parents and caregivers need support in order for them to get what is rightfully theirs e.g. when children are denied access to a school close to their home because of fees, this can be challenged.
  • Get information.
  • It is important to gather as much information as you can and disseminate it to members in your community. The public must participate in the process of making laws, must know their rights, must know how they can access the services and grants that are available to them.
  • Offer your services.
  • If you are able to offer your services to the local school, do so. The more we are able to work together to make a difference to the lives of the children in the country, the quicker we will realize our goal of “opening the doors of learning and culture to all”.

The following excerpts from Church Documents emphasises the role of the State concerning education in a country:

From: Vatican II, “Gravissimum Educationis”, 28 October, 1965:

5. Among the various organs of education the school is of outstanding importance. In nurturing the intellectual faculties which is its special mission, it develops a capacity for sound judgment and introduces the pupils to the cultural heritage bequeathed to them by former generations. It fosters a sense of values and prepares them for professional life. By providing for friendly contacts between pupils of different characters and backgrounds it encourages mutual understanding. Furthermore it constitutes a centre in whose activity and growth not only the families and teachers but also the various associations for the promotion of cultural, civil and religious life, civic society, and the entire community should take part.

From: “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church”:

132 (…) every political, economic, social, scientific and cultural programme must be inspired by the awareness of the primacy of each human being over society.
152 The movement towards the identification and proclamation of human rights is one of the most significant attempts to respond effectively to the inescapable demands of human dignity.(…)
157 (…) A nation has a “fundamental right to existence,” to “its own language and culture, through which a people expresses and promotes…its fundamental spiritual ‘sovereignty’” to “shape its life according to its own traditions, excluding, of course, every abuse of basic human rights and in particular the oppression of minorities,” to “build its future by providing an appropriate education for the younger generation” (…)
158 (…) Unfortunately, there is a gap between the “letter” and the “spirit” of human rights, which can often be attributed to a merely formal recognition of these rights. The Church’s social doctrine, in consideration of the privilege accorded by the Gospel to the poor, repeats over and over that “the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others” (…)
168 (…) The State must guarantee the coherency, unity and organization of the civil society of which it is an expression (…) the purpose of political institutions is to make available to persons the necessary material, cultural, moral and spiritual goods.
241 Parents have the rights to found and support educational institutions. Public authorities must see to it that “public subsidies are so allocated that parents are truly free to exercise this right without incurring unjust burdens. Parents should not have to sustain, directly or indirectly, extra charges which would deny or unjustly limit the exercise of this freedom. The refusal to provide public economic support to non-public schools that need assistance and that render a service to civil society is to be considered an injustice. “Whenever the State lays claim to an educational monopoly, it oversteps its rights and offends justice…
245 The situation of a vast number of the word’s children is far from being satisfactory, due to the lack of favourable conditions for their integral development despite the existence of a specific international juridical instrument for protecting their rights, an instrument that is binding on practically all members of the international community. These are conditions connected with the lack of health care, or adequate food supply, little or no possibility of receiving a minimum of academic formation or inadequate shelter…
It is essential to engage in a battle, at the national and international levels, against the violations of the dignity of boys and girls caused by … every kind of violence directed against these most defenceless of human creatures. These are criminal acts that must be effectively fought with adequate preventive and penal measures by the determined action of the different authorities involved.

Questions for reflection, discussion and sharing:
What do you see as the causes of the long standing crisis in black education? In your municipality how do you see the crisis being resolved?
Among your friends and people whom you know, it is easy to recognize some unpleasant realities such as illiteracy, poor parents who must pay school fees for the better future of their children and some young people who have opted to live in the street to survive because it is impossible for them to compete with this materialistic world. Other similar situations, that become challenges for us, you can identify from this article and your daily experience: What is your collaboration for improved change of this unjust and anti-Christian system of our society today? How can the Local Christian Community preach and act for the coming of the Kingdom founded on the values of the Gospel in our country?
The unjust system of the world starts in our hearts and life style, do we have the courage of the prophets and martyrs to denounce the injustices and in the same time to educate ourselves and others for a new and alternative life style, according to Jesus?

NOTE: for those interested to know the sources of information of this article and previous material write to: Questo indirizzo email è protetto dagli spambots. È necessario abilitare JavaScript per vederlo.


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